Thursday, December 22, 2011

Paul Jaquays and the Darkside

First, let it be known that your humble host is happy for Jaquays. This post should not be construed as an attack upon that person or a condemnation of that person’s recent choices.
Next, allow me to provide some background information for those readers not “in the know.” Back in the day, Paul Jaquays was a talented designer of table top role-playing game material, especially adventure modules. Jaquays, also a capable artist, provided graphics for various RPG products. Eventually, Jaquays transitioned to the computer gaming industry. Given the money involved, I can’t blame Jaquays for abandoning table top RPGs. Now, Jaquays is undergoing a different transition. Jaquays recently announced the adoption of a feminine identity, “both socially and physically.” Paul Allen Jaquays has become Jennell Allyn Jaquays.
Nowadays, gender transitions aren't exactly front page news and the fact that one of the RPG 'old guard' is transsexual shouldn't be a big deal. What makes this case interesting is that it's Paul Jaquays and to appreciate why this is interesting, we must venture to the Darkside.
Around twenty years ago, Jaquays designed the first few installments of a generic system series of sourcebooks branded as 'Central Casting' by Task Force Games; specifically:  Heroes of Legend, Heroes for Tomorrow, and Heroes Now! Each book provided a system of tables that could be used to provide depth and 'color' to player characters (and non-player characters). This was good stuff – boatloads of random tables for character generation. What's not to love? Someone needs to reprint these or at least make them available as cheap PDFs on RPGNow. The young folks these days don't know about good products like these. There is more to this hobby than the 3.5/4E pablum that gets churned out and marketed to our unknowing youth. This is why the OSR is important. This is why we need to preserve and cherish our heritage. Excuse me, I digress. Where was I? Ah, yes...the Darkside.
Via the tables, characters could acquire personality traits. Pleasant and worthwhile traits were called Lightside. Unpleasant or immoral traits were called Darkside, representing the baser aspects of humanity (or, one assumes, other species). Starting with the second book, neutral traits were also included. Characters could have a combination of traits. Possession of Darkside traits did not necessarily imply that a given character was evil; such traits could be interpreted as 'flaws' that a character could work to overcome. However, “...more often than not, characters who exhibit several [Darkside] traits are either knowingly evil or have become trapped in a lifestyle of wrong behavior.”
The problem is that “unpleasant” and “immoral” are subjective concepts. Because Jaquays created the books, it was his paradigm that determined what traits qualified as Darkside. At the time, Jaquays was an unabashed religious conservative. (I have no doubt that Jaquays remains religious, just not as conservative.) Among the Darkside traits were “sexual perversions,” including “transsexualism.” (Other listed ‘perversions’ included homosexuality, bisexuality, and transvestitism.)
Let’s put this in perspective. Jaquays went on a personal journey where she confronted and accepted that she is, in fact, what she once vehemently condemned. This is especially courageous and deserves admiration. Gender – and the explicit division thereof – is a core component of identity in our civilization; so much so that we have distinct pronouns for different genders. Essentially, Jaquays had to fundamentally reassess an identity she held for over fifty years. After that accomplishment, wearing high heels doesn’t seem so difficult.
Anyway, Jaquays was criticized (perhaps justifiably) for his deprecatory treatment of alternative lifestyles in the Central Casting books. In Heroes Now!, references to specific “sexual perversions” were removed and replaced with a section that touted ‘wholesome’ values and decried “popular” trends that sought to “brainwash society” into accepting “perverse behaviors” as normal. Your humble host is given to understand that Jaquays now has a different attitude, allegedly* saying that “There is content in my Central Casting Books which represents a different mindset than I now hold.”
In closing, I would like to provide a paragraph from the original Heroes of Legend:
I would think that Jaquays stills subscribes to this sentiment, although she has a different perspective as to what “deal with their problems” entails.
* Although it seems reasonable that Jaquays would say this, I cannot find the actual source for the quote.


  1. Reaction formation at work, apparently.

  2. Glad to hear Jaquays' had a change of heart. Although I admired the products, I was extremely put off by the religious conservative attitude.

  3. This is ridiculous. Sticking feathers up your ass doesn't make you a chicken.

    1. I tried to tell him that but his programmer, er, psyciatrist, told him to expect such "attacks". It kept Paul under the control of the psyciatrist and got him a regular paycheck. Paul didn't know he was being USED.
      Unless his DNA changes to XX I will referr to this mentally disturbed, but epic genius as HE, unless he preferrs IT.

  4. It depends on how you define “chicken.”

    Jaquays believes that she has a medical disorder and that gender transition is an appropriate treatment. Despite what Jaquays believed at one time, her current ‘behavior’ is hurting neither herself nor others. She conforms to the definition of ‘female’ according to the law (and much of our society). You certainly aren’t required to agree with this definition. There are several aspects of the law (and much of our society) that I find ridiculous. Regardless, these aspects are not deterred by what I choose to believe.

  5. A player in one of my old groups had one of those books - can't remember which - and it was a fascinating book, but we never used it because who wants to play a character whose entire personality was randomly determined? For one-shots, that is fine, but for an ongoing campaign that would quickly become tiresome. Maybe I am mis-remembering how you applied it, and of course you could just choose things from the tables instead, but we thought the whole concept was a personality railroad. But a cool read, though!

    Jaquays was my favorite of adveture designers, between Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower, so she has a lot of goodwill from me, regardless of previous stances. There was a bit of mechanical application of "his" politics in those tables, like the sexual deviancy tables, but other than that one instance I do not remember Jaquays ramming personal beliefs down anybody's throats. So again, glad she found out what she was.

    The only thing that bugs he is that the "I was wrong" moment was not arrived at by careful consideration of those beliefs, but rather forced upon her when she realized what she was. Not that that makes her late-found enlightenment hollow, but forced realizations do not have the strength of considered realizations.

    But, big deal, I never found anything she wrote to be all-condemning, and her adventures were the best I played. So, Excelsior, Jennell!

    And Merry Christmas, Perdustin!


  6. Fascinating. Thanks for this post.

  7. It seems like there is a lot of morality implied in much of popular fantasy --- it's pretty clear to me that authors like Lovecraft had a lot of what I would consider 'unenlightened' positions on certain social issues. Doesn't stop me from reading the stories, though.
    Just speculation on my part, but maybe when Jaquays wrote those tables he stuck 'trans sexual' in the "bad" column because he had identity concerns.
    I don't know when he wrote those books, but, honestly, thinking transexualism is "bad" wouldn't be a socially 'radical' or unusual position to take, even today. Based on my non-scientific sampling of "people I know and blogs I read," people who play RPGs are not the most open minded demographic.

  8. You may be right that the identity issues were the ultimate, secret reason for it. But the upfront, stated reason, in the introduction to Heroes Now!, was his political/religious conservatism. This has been reprinted in several spots on the net, if you want to read his/her own words. Again, this did not detract for me, as it had no significant impact on the game, and it was not shoved down your throat, and the book was cool.

    Your last paragraph is right on, Limpey. Even those who wave their banners of open-mindedness and liberality are remarkably dogmatic.


  9. Probably when he wrote those words, he believed that transgenderism (or whatever the proper term is) was immoral --- maybe later he began to feel differently.
    In any case, I wouldn't beat him up over it. It wasn't an unusual view then (or now).

  10. Calling the insane, sane and the Perverted, Just is, as we say in the gaming industry "Chaos".

  11. Do what you have to do. You came out and were true to yourself. Thank you for all your creativity and inspiration Ms. Jaquays.

  12. Jaquays original books had the correct attitude. Sorry to bust your snowflakes.